|10.04.09 at 9:26 pm ET|
Ultimately, the dilemma wasn’t a terribly difficult one. Whether the Red Sox chose to have Jon Lester or Josh Beckett as the Game 1 starter in the American League Divison Series against the Angels, they would enjoy the presence of an elite pitcher capable of dominating a playoff-worthy opponent.
In the final days of the season, both pitchers received clean bills of health in their final tuneups for the playoffs. Lester allowed two hits while firing 6.1 scoreless innings on Thursday, showing no limitations as a result of having been hit by a line drive on the side of his right knee.
Beckett allowed four runs in five innings on Saturday, though he seemed to shake off the rust of not having pitched in 10 days in his final three innings. He also showed no effects of the back spasms that cost him his previous start. If anything, according to catcher Victor Martinez, Beckett was ‘too strong.’
The health of both of their most dominant pitchers confirmed, the Sox had the enviable choice to make of Beckett or Lester for Game 1 against the Angels. The team selected Lester for the first game, followed by Beckett in Game 2 and Clay Buchholz in Game 3, for a few reasons.
First, Lester has been the more dominant pitcher this year. He went 15-8 with a 3.41 ERA, including 12-3 with a 2.31 ERA from May 31 through the end of the season. Beckett, meanwhile, went 17-6 but with a 3.81 ERA.
Further, in the event that the Sox’ series starts on Thursday, they would be in a position to start Lester in Game 1 (on six days of rest) and then again, if they faced a 2-1 deficit in the series, on three days of rest in Game 4. That would allow Beckett to make starts in Game 2 (on five days of rest) and, after four days of rest, Game 5.
‘We’re going to have to lean on both of them,’ said manager Terry Francona. ‘To flip-flop them around we would have one guy on normal rest and another guy on 10. That doesn’t make sense to any of us, including Beckett and Lester.
‘We don’t know when we’re playing, but we think Lester is situated where he can come back on short rest and that would have Beckett, if there’s a Game 5, on regular rest.’
The club would not necessarily need to pursue that avenue. If, for instance, they won two of the first three games, they could turn to Daisuke Matsuzaka in Game 4 and have Lester pitch if a Game 5 proved necessary.
Even so, the idea of being able to respond to two losses in their first three games by having Lester and Beckett on the hill would be an appealing one for the Sox. Of all of the American League pitchers in the postseason, Lester and Beckett will rank no worse than second and third in strikeouts (225 and 199). (Justin Verlander would top the list if the Tigers beat the Twins.)
That suggests the potential for dominance that is often considered a hallmark of postseason success.
‘People talk about power arms in the playoffs. I can’t think of much more power than Beckett and Lester,’ said Jed Lowrie. ‘If those guys do what they’re capable of doing, we’re shaping up pretty good.’
Beckett was 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in two starts against the Angels this year. Lester has yet to face them. He did, however, pitch against the Halos twice in the 2008 Division Series, logging 14 innings without allowing an earned run in his two starts, both Red Sox wins.
Ultimately, for the Sox, the issue of who will start Game 1 was always less important than the identity of the two pitchers who they hope will anchor their playoff run.
‘We have two horses at the front,’ said catcher Jason Varitek. ‘That bodes well.’
|10.04.09 at 3:13 pm ET|
After Sunday afternoon’s game, Red Sox manager Terry Francona will announce the team’s plan for its starting rotation. In all likelihood, Jon Lester will be announced as the Game 1 starter and Josh Beckett will be slated for the second game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. There’s no real surprise on either count. There are, however, some slightly more challenging roster issues that continue to confront the Sox as they look to figure out the 25 players who make the roster against the Angels.
It was a difficult decision based on Tim Wakefield’s stature within the organization, but a fairly straightforward one based on his physical condition. The knuckleballer’s All-Star first half, in which he went 11-3 with a 4.31 ERA, yielded to utter disappointment in the second half, as he was able to make just four starts while going 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA. He is unable to field his position due to weakness in his leg, the result of a herniated disc that is impinging the sciatic nerve.
As a result, the Sox confirmed the obvious in deciding that Wakefield will not be part of the first round playoff roster. Even so, the team asked Wakefield to hold off before undergoing surgery to repair the disc, given the possibility that an injury could lead the club to seek a start from the knuckleballer later in the postseason. One need look only to the 2007 playoffs, when a shoulder injury to Wakefield forced the Sox to use Jon Lester as a starter, for precedent about the need to have available starting depth. Though his immense struggles to get to the mound, Wakefield has shown that he is capable of enduring a long layoff yet still pitching well enough to permit his team a chance to win.
“I think it’s kind of obvious the situation he’s in. He’s been trying to go out there kind of on one leg. What we did also talk to him about was not shelving his season. We know one day you can feel good about your pitching and then something happens. Wake has that ability, whether it’s two weeks from now, to throw a pretty good game. He’s on board with that, which we appreciated a lot,” said Francona. “He’s not going to be there in the first round. That doesn’t mean something couldn’t happen … It’s been very difficult for him physically. We didn’t just want to shut him down either. He could still play a role.”
Wakefield declined comment, except to say that the decision was “fine. I’ll be ready.”
A somewhat more unexpected event is the emergent possibility that the Sox might be without Rocco Baldelli in the first round. Because the Angels feature a pair of southpaw starters — Scott Kazmir and Joe Saunders — it seemed reasonable to expect a role for the Sox’ right-handed outfield reserve off the bench. The team remains hopeful that Baldelli will be available, but following a strained left hip flexor on Friday, his status is in question.
Baldelli will undergo tests on Monday. The Sox are hopeful that, because their series against the Angels might not employ one of their left-handed starters before Saturday’s Game 3, the reserve outfielder might still be able to make the playoff roster.
“We’ll see where it goes. It’s a big bat to have,” said Francona. “[The injury] doesn’t take him off [the playoff roster]. It certainly could. It hasn’t yet. I think we’re going to treat it aggressively and see where this goes. Potentially, they don’t throw a lefty until the third game.”
Alex Gonzalez erased any doubts about his hand when he lined a solo homer into the Monster seats on the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the second inning on Sunday. If there were any questions about how his hand had recovered from the swelling, that answered them.
Gonzalez’ health is crucial, given that reserve Nick Green remains “stuck in neutral,” in Francona’s words, in his efforts to return from a back injury that — much like Wakefield — has created weakness in his leg.
“He just can’t support the squatting part when he’s hitting and fielding a groundball,” said Francona.
That would appear to rule Green out of the first round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, Chris Woodward remains away from the team to be with his wife following the birth of the couple’s third child. The team is unsure when the utility infielder will be back with the club.
Almost by default, that would leave Jed Lowrie as the primary candidate for the backup infield spot. Of course, there are worse fates. The Sox point out that Lowrie has postseason experience by virtue of his time as the starting shortstop last October, and the team has few concerns about his defensive abilities or his ability to hit right-handed. The Sox have been pleased with how Lowrie has looked at the plate in the last couple of games in which he’s had to hit left-handed, and so he would appear likely to be on the postseason roster for the Division Series.
Manny Delcarmen was rendered unavailable to pitch this weekend after he got into a car accident on I-93 on Saturday. The right-hander reported today that he feels better than he did on Saturday, when he faced significant stiffness in his back and neck, but the team had been hoping to see him pitch before making a final determination about whether he might be on the playoff roster. Delcarmen said that he was fortunate that he was driving his Hummer, rather than his wife’s Nissan Murano, or else the injuries he incurred while trying to avoid the car that careened in front of him could have been far worse.
|10.04.09 at 2:24 pm ET|
It took Alex Gonzalez one pitch to assert that his right hand — which was hit by a pitch from Indians reliever Kerry Wood — is fine. Gonzalez whacked the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the second inning, an 89 mph fastball from starter Tomo Ohka, just inside the left-field foul pole for a solo homer. The strength in his hand would appear to be fine. Gonzalez is now hitting .290 with a .322 OBP, .462 slugging mark and five homers in the ninth spot in the lineup. Given that he was acquired solely to stabilize the infield defense, and that the Sox were braced for the possibility that he would contribute nothing offensively, his production has been a significant bonus for the club.
|10.04.09 at 11:15 am ET|
Game No. 162: The finale.
While manager Terry Francona huddles over the desk in his office, studying his notes and putting the finishing touches on his postseason roster, Boston Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz (7-4, 3.74) prepares to shake off the rust accumulated from his disastrous outing on Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays. Lasting only five innings, Buchholz was pounded for seven runs and eight hits- five of which were home runs- on the same night that the Red Sox (94-67) clinched the AL wild card courtesy of a Texas Rangers’ loss.
Before Tuesday’s horrendous outing, Buchholz had not lost a game since Aug. 13 when he was outdueled by Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander in a 2-0 defeat. Since then, the Red Sox were victorious in all eight of Buchholz’ starts prior to the 8-7 loss to Toronto.
Making his first career appearance against the Cleveland Indians (65-96), the right-hander looks to rebound from his worst start in over a month as the Red Sox conclude their regular season at home this afternoon. Pitching in Fenway this season, Buchholz owns a 2-2 record with a 3.83 ERA in seven starts.
Fired earlier in the week, Indians manager Eric Wedge concludes his tenure with the Tribe as the team attempts to avoid a four-game sweep after losing 11-6 in last night’s game. In the final game of their disappointing season, the Indians call upon the right-handed Tomo Ohka (1-4, 5.45 ERA) to start in the place of former Red Sox pitcher Justin Masterson, whose previous start was pushed back to Wednesday due to a rainout Tuesday night.
Spending most of his time with Cleveland in the bullpen, Ohka takes the mound for only his sixth start of the year. In those starts, Ohka has yet to win a game posting an 0-4 record with a substantial 6.45 ERA.
In his career, the 33-year-old Kyoto native has made three starts opposing the Red Sox going 1-2 with a 5.06 ERA and yielding three home runs in 16 innings. Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell has fared exceptionally well against the journeyman batting .366 with three home runs and a .422 on-base percentage in 45 career plate appearances.
Though Buchholz has never faced Cleveland, here is how Red Sox batters have performed against Ohka in the past:
Tomo Ohka vs. Red Sox batters
Mike Lowell (45 career plate appearances) .366 AVG, .422 OBP, .634 SLG, 3 home runs, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts
Alex Gonzalez (34) .212, .235, .242, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts
J.D. Drew (17) .200, .294, .200, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts
Jason Bay (13) .444, .538, 1.111, 2 home runs, 3 walks, 1 strikeout
David Ortiz (12) .417, .417, .750, 1 home run, 1 strikeout
Nick Green (7) 0-for-7, 1 strikeout
Dustin Pedroia (6) 2-for-5, 1 double, 1 walk
Chris Woodward (5) 3-for-5, 1 home run, 1 triple
Rocco Baldelli (3) 0-for-3
Jason Varitek (2) 0-for-2
Brian Anderson (1) 0-for-1
|10.04.09 at 11:13 am ET|
Red Sox manager Terry Francona said prior the Red Sox’ game, Sunday, with the Indians that Tim Wakefield will not be on the American League Division Series roster, but that the team is not ruling out the knuckleballer making an appearance in the postseason if the Sox advance. “I think it’s kind of obvious the situation he’s in … Talked to him about not shelving his season … he’s on board with that,” Francona said.
Francona noted that Manny Delcarmen, who was — as was first reported by WEEI.com — in a car accident prior to Saturday night’s game, was “pretty stiff last night”, and that the Red Sox would have like to see more of the reliever before the postseason but now can’t because of his availability.
As for Rocco Baldelli, who has been sidelined with a sore hip, there is no decision on his addition to the postseason roster with Francona saying, “We’ll treat him aggressively and see where this goes … He’s a big bat to have.” Nick Green, who is still struggling with a slipped disc in his back, is, according the Sox manager, “stuck in neutral”. The Red Sox pitchers will throw side sessions Monday in case their ALDS with the Angels starts Wednesday.
|10.04.09 at 4:06 am ET|
Dusty Brown was a 35th round draft pick out of Yavapai Junior College (Curt Schilling‘s alma mater) in 2000. The Red Sox made Yavapai’s catcher/closer a draft-and-follow, and signed him in 2001, when he made his pro debut in the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League, on the same team on which Manny Delcarmen started his pro career.
Brown showed early promise in his pro career, but in part due to a succession of injuries, his progress was up-and-down, and his movement up the ladder was thus deliberate. He saw one Sox prospect after another zoom past him on the way to the majors, playing with such talents as Delcarmen, Brandon Moss, Hanley Ramirez, Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia and Jonathan Papelbon as they marched towards the majors.
There were times of frustration. But nine years into his career as a member of the Red Sox, Brown ‘ who had batted just once since making his big-league debut as a defensive replacement this year ‘ ensured achieved a milestone at the major-league level.
In the bottom of the eighth inning of the Red Sox’ 11-6 win over the Indians on Saturday, Brown crushed a changeup from Indians reliever Mike Gosling. The ball sailed over the Wall and crashed in the last row of the Monster Seats for the 27-year-old’s first career hit and first career homer. The Fenway crowd of 37,562 chanted the catcher’s name ‘ Dus-ty, Dus-ty, Dus-ty ‘ until his teammates pushed him out of the dugout to accept a curtain call.
‘It’s unbelievable, man,’ said Brown. ‘Not many guys can say that: at Fenway Park, to get a curtain call from the fans, there’s nothing like it. I’ll remember it forever.’
It has been an unforgettable string of days for Brown, who on Wednesday night pitched an inning in Boston’s blowout loss to the Blue Jays. Though Brown said that the homer was hands-down the cooler moment, he has embraced his week of firsts.
“I’ve been hearing people outside the stadium talking about me pitching, and then to have tonight, get in there when I wasn’t really expecting to play, get my first hit and have it be a home run, a curtain call, it’s good stuff,” he said.
It took time for Brown to have his moment. In all likelihood, he will be the last Red Sox player drafted under former G.M. Dan Duquette to make his major-league debut with the Sox.
Brown’s minor-league career demanded a significant degree of patience. On Saturday, his persistence paid off, as he truly entered the company of his once and future teammates.
‘So many guys blew right by me, but some guys have different paths to the big leagues than others,’ said Brown. ‘It’s been weird being in the same organization for so long and watching all these other guys develop into what they are now, knowing that at one time I was right there with them. They’d keep going; I had a couple setbacks. Now that we’re finally here, all together, it’s great.’
|10.04.09 at 4:00 am ET|
Much to the relief of the Red Sox, the shortstop said after getting drilled in the hand that he was fine. On Saturday morning, X-rays confirmed the fact. Though the initial fluoroscope on Friday showed what Gonzalez called ‘a little line’ on the back of his hand, further tests ruled out a fracture.
Gonzalez, who sat out as scheduled on Saturday, had some swelling in his hand, but reported that he was pain-free. He did not swing on Saturday, and instead iced his hand before and after the game.
He remained hopeful that he might be able to play on Sunday, in the regular-season finale. More significantly, all signs pointed to Gonzalez being available when the playoffs begin against the Angels.
‘We got the results back,’ said Sox manager Terry Francona. ‘We’re thrilled.’
The reason was obvious. Gonzalez, in less than two months since the Sox re-acquired him on Aug. 14, has become nearly indispensible.
Part of that is a commentary on the team’s limited depth behind him. Backup Nick Green remains hampered by a bulging disc that is pressing against a nerve and causing weakness in his leg. Jed Lowrie remains limited in his left-handed at-bats thanks to his ongoing recovery from surgery on his left wrist in April, and entered last night hitting just .145 with a .203 OBP and .226 slugging mark. Chris Woodward has the second-worst OPS in the majors (.564) since the start of the 2006 season.
‘Having a guy of Gonzo’s ability to write in every night makes it easier,’ said first-base and infield coach Tim Bogar. ‘That just gives you the consistency of having the same guy out there every night. You know what you’re going to get.
‘You don’t want to lose a guy of his quality. I also know that Nick’s not feeling good and Jed’s probably not at 100 percent yet. It would have been a detriment to us not to have him.’
But that is not only because of the limitations of Gonzalez’ shortstop brethren. There is little question that Gonzalez has contributed immensely to his team’s playoff drive. Though he missed all of last year with a knee injury, and had spent further time on the sidelines while with the Reds, he has been in the lineup nearly every game since rejoining Boston.
Gonzalez has been an everyday player in every sense of the word, playing in 43 games (tied for second most on the club) since joining the Sox on Aug. 15. In the 42 games he has started, the Sox are 26-16 (.619).
‘That’s the one thing he said when he came over. He goes, ‘I want to play,’’ said Francona. ‘I have no problem running him out. He prepares every day. He takes good care of himself. There’s no reason he can’t play everyday. He’s done a good job. You start getting some injuries like he had with the knee, those are pretty serious things.
‘It’s one thing for a guy to say I want to play and then go out there and limp. But he’s taken care of himself to the point that he can go out there and be a real good player.’
Indeed, Gonzalez has delivered better-than-expected production since virtually the day that he arrived. After hitting just .210/.258/.296/.554 for the Reds, Gonzalez has delivered a vastly improved offensive line of .285/.318/.438/.755.
His defense, meanwhile, has helped to stabilize the Sox infield. An area of at-times acute weakness has been solidified with Gonzalez’ return to Boston.
‘We were really well below the average, well below where we wanted to be at shortstop defense for a significant part of the season,’ said Sox G.M. Theo Epstein. ‘Bringing in Alex, who’s been really steady since he’s been here was a significant upgrade, in part because of how reliable he’s been, how good his hands are, how good his arm is, his instincts, but also in part because of the performance we had early. That’s been a steadying influence on our overall defense and our pitching staff since he’s been here.’
Now, Gonzalez will have the opportunity to continue to offer that influence to the Sox during the postseason. That fact came as a relief to the shortstop, who waived his no-trade clause to return to Boston.
‘To get hurt like that, be out for the season, it would be frustrating, especially since we’re going to the playoffs,’ said Gonzalez. ‘That’s what I live for: the team in the postseason, trying to win the World Series. Thank God it didn’t happen.’
|10.03.09 at 6:54 pm ET|
Red Sox manager Terry Francona provided a number of updates about potential reserves for the postseason roster. The newest and likely most significant development was that outfielder Rocco Baldelli, after leaving Friday’s game with discomfort in his hip, is feeling “pretty tender” and “was hurting” when he arrived in the Fenway Park clubhouse today.
Baldelli will probably have to wait until Monday to undergo further tests, potentially including an MRI, but his availability for the start of the postseason could be in some question depending upon the results. Outfielders Joey Gathright and Brian Anderson will both be traveling with the Sox to Anaheim on Monday night for the start of the Division Series. Gathright seems all but certain to have a postseason roster spot regardless of Baldelli’s health; the right-handed Anderson, meanwhile, could become an option for the roster if Baldelli is limited.
Other relevant developments in the formulation of the playoff roster:
–Alex Gonzalez‘ X-rays today revealed that there was no fracture in his right hand. That came as a significant relief to both the shortstop and his club.
“To get hurt like that, be out for the season, it would be frustrating, especially since we’re going to the playoffs,” said Gonzalez. “That’s what I live for: the team in the postseason, trying to win the World Series. Thank God it didn’t happen.”
Gonzalez planned to take some swings on Saturday, and hopes to play on Sunday. That diminishes slightly the brief sense of panic that could have crept into the team’s calculations regarding its shortstop position.
–The backup role still seems a bit of an open question, however, with Nick Green seemingly unavailable, Jed Lowrie still somewhat limited (“We don’t want to see too much of Lowrie,” said Francona, suggesting that the team is still trying to measure his playing time) as he continues to rebuild strength following his April wrist surgery and Chris Woodward away from the club to be with his wife after she delivered the couple’s third child.
RIGHT FIELD / LEFT-HANDED OUTFIELDERS
–Sox manager Terry Francona said that J.D. Drew is fine, and will play tomorrow. Presuming he comes out of that game without a hitch, Josh Reddick will be sent to Fort Myers to stay fresh in case an injury requires the Sox to add him to the roster later in the postseason. If Drew has a setback, then Reddick would travel with the Sox to Anaheim as an insurance option.
–George Kottaras will travel with the club to Anaheim, but seemingly in a non-roster capacity. Unlike previous years, where the Sox were inclined to have three catchers to maximize their roster versatility, it appears that the team will have just two catchers this year. While Kottaras will travel with the team in the postseason, catcher Dusty Brown will head to Fort Myers to stay sharp.
–Paul Byrd said that he will be in the Red Sox bullpen both on Saturday and Sunday, but he did not think it necessary for him to gear up for a potential postseason bullpen role by making an appearance in the next couple of days.
–Michael Bowden will also head to Fort Myers to stay sharp. Pitchers Dustin Richardson, Hunter Jones and Fernando Cabrera will all head home.
–Junichi Tazawa will also travel with the Sox to Anaheim, spend the first two games with the club (“We want him to experience a little bit of what we’re doing,” said Sox manager Terry Francona, “and what he can hopefully be a part of”) and then fly back to Japan, his first professional season concluded.
|10.03.09 at 2:03 pm ET|
A Red Sox team spokesperson confirmed that additional X-rays taken this morning on the right hand of shortstop Alex Gonzalez came back negative, indicating that the stray pitch that hit him in the hand did not result in a fracture. Gonzalez had said that there was “a little line” on the back of his hand in the initial fluoroscope at the ballpark, leading to fears that his hand might be broken, something that would clearly impact his availability for the postseason. Based on this morning’s results, however, it would appear that worst-case scenario will not be visited.
Gonzalez had already been scheduled to sit out of Saturday’s game (assuming it is played), even before the injury. But it would appear that he will not be lost to the Sox when meaningful games resume with the start of the playoffs.
|10.03.09 at 11:57 am ET|
After eight seasons at the helm of the Blue Jays, Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi was fired on Saturday morning. The decision was announced in a press release.
“This was a tough decision and a difficult one for me personally as I have enjoyed J.P.’s friendship and his perspective on the game,” said Paul Beeston, acting President, and CEO. “J.P. has put an incredible amount of effort into improving the team and he has brought along a number of great young players. However, I feel that it is time for a change and accordingly we have decided to move on.”
The Blue Jays were 642-651 under Ricciardi, finishing as high as second place in the American League East in 2006 and finishing in third place — behind the Yankees and Red Sox — on four separate occasions. Ricciardi freely admitted to the immense challenge of trying to compete against those two financial heavyweights in what is widely viewed as baseball’s toughest division.
In an interview with WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford in August, Ricciardi discussed “the reality of the division,” which permits only elite teams to survive and enter the postseason.
“There’s a lot of really good things happening [in Toronto],” Ricciardi said at the time. What I think we’ve realized is the reality of the division. We know it, but we’ve come to realize it even more so. This is not a division you can be good in, you have to be great in it to make the playoffs. We’ve been good the last three years. The ownership has been great to us. They’ve allowed us to spend some money over the last three years, and the last three years we were high 80’s in wins. We’re not good enough to win the division.
“What we have to do is take a step back and start looking at ways that we can start building to get great. I think with the [Brett] Cecils and the [Ricky] Romeros and all the young arms we have, along with the [Aaron] Hills and the [Adam] Linds and the players we have coming we have a really good foundation and nucleus to get there. But I think we have to be smart about the fact that right now we’re not great and you have to be great to win this division.
“We have a really good foundation here. Our ownership is great. Our ownership isn’t one that gives into pressure and understands that it’s a long haul and understands there’s a method to the madness. We’re pretty confident we’re going to be OK going forward. Every year brings different challenges and hopefully one of these years we’ll stay healthy to put the right players out there.”
Now, if that does happen, it will be someone other than Ricciardi who assembles that group of players.
This year, the Blue Jays got off to a terrific start, and owned a 27-19 record and resided in first place on May 23 despite a collection of injuries (to Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, Jesse Litsch and Casey Janssen, among others) that seemed likely to torpedo the Toronto pitching staff. But the team struggled over the next four months — with the offense serving as the primary culprit — leading to the team’s willingness to trade ace Roy Halladay at this year’s trade deadline. But the Blue Jays ended up not dealing their ace, deeming the offers that they received inadequate. The Jays recorded a 48-66 record after falling out of first place, resulting in a fourth-place standing in the A.L. East and leading to Ricciardi’s ouster.
Blue Jays assistant general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been promoted to the position of interim G.M.
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